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Big Gets Bigger: Sinclair Acquires 14 TV Stations from Bonten Media

Phillip Dampier April 24, 2017 Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

Sinclair Broadcast Group is getting 14 stations larger with the announced $240 million acquisition of TV stations in small markets owned and operated by Bonten Media.

  • WCYB (NBC) and WEMT (Fox) serving eastern Tennessee and western Virginia
  • WCTI (ABC) and WYDO (Fox) in North Carolina
  • KCVU (Fox), KRCR (ABC), KRVU (MNT), KUCO (UNI), KAEF (ABC), KBVU (Fox), KECA (CW) and KEUV (UNI) in California
  • KECI (NBC), KCFW (NBC) and KTVM (NBC) in Montana
  • KTXS (ABC), KTES (Me-TV) and KTXE (ABC) in Texas

The station acquisitions will increase Sinclair’s presence in states where it already operates, and could directly affect cable and satellite TV customers because of Sinclair’s usual practice of demanding high compensation fees for permission to carry its stations on the pay TV dial.

WCTI-TV New Bern/Greenville/Washington/
Jacksonville, N.C. is just one of the stations being acquired by Sinclair.

The acquisition allows Sinclair to make advertising opportunities available on a larger number of stations and will help Sinclair expand the number of stations that carry its digital subchannel networks including Comet, a sci-fi channel, Charge!, which airs action-oriented programming, and TBD, a short-form programming network that relies heavily on online media productions.

“We look forward to welcoming the Bonten employees into the Sinclair family and are pleased to be growing our regional presence in several states where we already operate,” said Sinclair CEO Chris Ripley in a statement. “We believe our economies of scale help us bring improvements to small market stations, including investments in news, other quality local programming, and multicast opportunities with our emerging networks.”

The current deal is only a preview of the kind of TV station consolidation expected with Sinclair’s anticipated acquisition of Tribune Media, which owns familiar large market stations like WPIX-New York, KTLA-Los Angeles and WGN-Chicago.

Last week, FCC chairman Ajit Pai led the Commission to make it easier for large station owner groups to acquire more stations. Sinclair is currently the second-largest TV station owner in the U.S. (behind Nexstar Media Group) with 165 stations if its deal with Bonten is approved by regulators. Should it acquire Tribune, it would become the nation’s largest TV station operator by far.

Verizon FiOS Introduces 940/880Mbps Tier For As Low as $69.99; Existing Subs Can Upgrade April 30

Phillip Dampier April 24, 2017 Broadband Speed, Competition, Consumer News, Verizon 1 Comment

Verizon has announced near-gigabit speeds will soon be available to its FiOS customers in eight markets starting April 30th at prices as low as $69.99 a month.

The new speed tier will cost less than half of Verizon FiOS’ currently advertised 500/500Mbps plan, and less than the 750Mbps plan some customers have been able to buy during the last three months in select cities.

FiOS Gigabit Connection will not actually deliver 1,000/1,000Mbps service, but it will come close with download speeds up to 940Mbps and 880Mbps for uploads.

Current FiOS customers will be able to upgrade their internet speed and see a dramatic bill reduction starting April 30, according to a Verizon representative.

Unfortunately, all Verizon FiOS customers will not be able to take advantage of the upgraded speeds and lower prices immediately. For now, only customers in the following areas qualify:

  • New York (City and immediate suburbs)
  • Portions of Northern New Jersey
  • Philadelphia
  • Richmond and Hampton Roads, Va.
  • Boston
  • Providence, R.I.
  • Washington, D.C.

Pricing will depend on the level of service you have. Equipment rental, taxes and fees are not included. Customers must order online to get this pricing:

  • Standalone (non-promotional/never expires): $69.99/mo
  • Triple-play bundle price: $79.99/mo, rising to $84.99 in year two

Customers in the qualified markets noted above currently subscribed to Verizon’s 750/750Mbps plan ($150/mo) will be transitioned to the new gigabit plan automatically and get a lower bill as well.

As FiOS Gigabit Connection is introduced, Verizon will dramatically cut the number of internet plans it offers customers in areas where gigabit speeds are available. Verizon is expected to drop its 100, 150, 300, 500, and 750Mbps tiers, leaving just two — an entry-level 50/50Mbps plan starting at $39.99 and the gigabit plan for just under $70.

In other cities where gigabit speeds will not be available for now, customers are stuck with lower speeds and higher prices. Verizon does not have a timetable when other cities will receive upgrades at this time.

Gone Rogue: Competition, Ajit Pai-Style

Public Knowledge released this video today showing FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has ‘gone rogue’ with favors for his Big Telecom friends but none for you. (1:15)

Republican-Controlled FCC Votes to Deregulate Business Data Services; Huge Win for AT&T, Verizon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to effectively deregulate the $45 billion business data services market in a win for companies like AT&T Inc, CenturyLink Inc and Verizon Communications Inc that will likely lead to price hikes for many small businesses.

The 2-1 vote is a blow to companies such as Sprint Corp and others that claim prices for business data are too high and backed a 2016 plan under former President Barack Obama that would have cut prices.

It marked a significant step in FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s aggressive agenda to roll back many existing telecommunications rules and Obama era regulations.

Small businesses, schools, libraries and others rely on business data services, or special-access lines, to transmit large amounts of data quickly.

The services are used, among other applications, to connect banks to ATM machines or gasoline pump credit card readers. Wireless carriers rely on them to get data from an end user to a node in a major network or the so-called backhaul of mobile traffic.

Thursday’s vote scrapped most regulatory requirements in the business data services market, although some price caps in areas with little competition will be retained.

Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who accused her Republican colleagues of siding with “the interests of multibillion-dollar providers,” said the ruling “opens the door to immediate price hikes” to small businesses. The rule deregulates pricing in a majority of counties and more than 90 percent of buildings using the services.

Pai defended the decision, saying regulatory requirements had threatened competition and investment.

Pai plans as early as next week to unveil plans to dismantle the Obama administration’s “net neutrality” rules, even as he favors a free and open internet under a different regulatory scheme.

He declined to discuss his plans, but said he had met this week with executives at Facebook Inc, Oracle Corp, Cisco Systems Inc and Intel Corp to discuss internet issues.

In recent days, the independent Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, the European Union and Democratic members of Congress have raised concerns about the lifting of net neutrality rules.

Under Obama, then FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in April 2016 proposed a sweeping reform plan for business data services that aimed to reduce prices paid. Wheeler had proposed maintaining and lowering lower price caps using legacy data systems with a phased-in 11 percent price reduction.

Sprint, which backed Wheeler’s proposal, told the FCC in a March 22 letter that “thousands of large and small businesses across the country were paying far too much for broadband because of inadequate competition.”

CenturyLink praised Thursday’s decision as something that aligned regulations with “competitive market realities.” Comcast Corp said the vote would help minimize “burdensome and investment-killing regulations, specifically on new entrants.”

Advocacy group Public Knowledge said the decision “doubles down on incumbent market power, forcing businesses, hospitals, schools, and ultimately consumers to pay more for essential connectivity.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Andrew Hay and Tom Brown).

Verizon Reports First-Ever Quarterly Loss of Wireless Customers, Despite New Unlimited Data Plan

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Verizon is seen at a retail store in San Diego, California April 21, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

(Reuters) – Verizon Communications Inc on Thursday reported its first-ever quarterly loss of subscribers, even as it offered an unlimited data plan, raising questions on whether the No. 1 U.S. wireless carrier may need a larger acquisition than Yahoo to diversify its business.

Verizon has been struggling to fend off smaller rivals T-Mobile US Inc and Sprint Corp in a maturing market for U.S. wireless service, and in February offered an unlimited data plan for the first time in more than five years.

While it has pursued other revenue streams, including a $4.48 billion deal for Yahoo Inc’s core business, analysts have questioned if it should pursue a more transformative combination.

“We continue to believe that the company needs a strategic transaction to support their wireless business for the long-term,” analysts at New Street Research said in a note.

Meanwhile, Verizon’s main competitor AT&T Inc plans to diversify its business through an $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner Inc, which would give it control of cable TV channels like HBO and other coveted media assets.

Verizon’s shares were down 1.2 percent at $48.33 in midday trade.

Earlier this week, Verizon Chief Executive Lowell McAdam said in an interview with Bloomberg News that he is open to deal talks with companies ranging from Comcast Corp to Walt Disney Co.

On Thursday, Chief Financial Officer Matthew Ellis clarified the comments, saying that while the company would consider deals that are in the interest of shareholders, it is confident in its assets.

“The ecosystem is constantly changing, and if there’s somebody who comes to us with an idea of how we can kind of leapfrog forward in that environment, we’re going to listen to them,” Ellis said in an interview with Reuters. But he added, “We are very confident with the strategy that we have.”

In the first quarter, Verizon said it lost 307,000 retail postpaid subscribers or those who pay a monthly bill. Analysts on average were expecting net additions of 222,000, according to market research firm FactSet StreetAccount.

Churn, or customer defections, among wireless retail customers who pay bills on a monthly basis, increased to 1.15 percent of total wireless subscribers, compared with the average analyst estimate of 1.03 percent, according to FactSet.

Ellis noted that churn rose in the first half of the quarter but came down in response to the relaunch of unlimited plans. “It really was a tale of two halves,” he said.

But analysts viewed the results as disappointing.

“They badly missed on every important subscriber metric, and it just underscores that the wireless business is a severely growth-challenged business at the moment,” said Craig Moffett, an analyst at MoffettNathanson in an interview.Net income attributable to Verizon fell to $3.45 billion, or 84 cents per share, in the first quarter ended March 31, from $4.31 billion, or $1.06 per share, a year earlier. Excluding items, earnings per share was 95 cents.

Total operating revenue fell to $29.81 billion from $32.17 billion a year earlier.

According to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, analysts had expected adjusted earnings per share of 99 cents and revenue of $30.77 billion.

(Reporting by Anjali Athavaley in New York; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty, Bernard Orr).

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